Anyone can learn to love exercise (even couch potatoes!). For most of my life, I hated exercise. Now it is my favorite activity. What happened? Long (but interesting) story…
Hate exercise? If so, ask yourself: “Why?”
Exercise didn’t come naturally to me. In fact, it used to fill me with dread. I’d rather go to the dentist than the gym (or my past self would, anyway). Why’s that? It had a lot to do with my lazy childhood.
I never learned how to ride a bicycle.
My dad discouraged me from trying it, because he was afraid I’d hurt myself. It’s tempting to blame him for being a helicopter parent, but that wouldn’t be 100% fair. Honestly, I didn’t mind. That just meant more time for Nintendo!
I never learned how to swim.
Okay, I can dog paddle, but that doesn’t really count. The movement is too inefficient. It’s easy to exhaust yourself when you’re haphazardly flailing your arms and legs about. If I ever take a cruise and the ship sinks, I’ll drown fast without a life jacket.
I was a chubby kid.
Between my dad being a worrywart and my love of video games, I had plenty of reasons NOT to exercise. I also consumed a diet that consisted of two major food groups: Taco Bell and Mountain Dew. As a result, I became obese by the time I was nine years old.
Gym class was the worst.
Gym class isn’t fun when you’re extremely out of shape. It was embarrassing to see other kids climb a rope with ease, while I couldn’t even keep my feet off the ground for a second. I remember hiding in a bathroom stall to change clothes, because I was ashamed of my appearance.
And then I became a mall-rat.
The video arcade was my favorite place as a teenager. In 2003, DDR Max2 was released. DDR stands for “Dance Dance Revolution.” My friends and I became obsessed with this game. Players stand on a platform with four arrows. The goal is to step on the correct arrow in tune with the rhythm.
DDR was my gateway drug into fitness.
As you progress to more difficult songs, the sequences of arrows become quite complex. DDR players look like they are stomping an invading army of ants. In the process, they burn 5-8 calories per minute. My friends and I played for 1-2 hours at a time. That adds up to 300-960 calories burned.
What was so special about DDR?
Even though DDR made me sweaty, I loved every second of it. How is this possible? That’s one of the main things I hated about exercise! It’s because I was bonding with friends in a supportive atmosphere, where having fun was priority #1. It also helped that I was “playing a game” (not “exercising”).
DDR helped me lose 30 pounds in one summer.
Granted, I gained it back later. That had nothing to do with DDR and everything to do with the fact that I went to college, where my eating habits quickly went to shit. It’s hard to make healthy decisions when you are presented with an endless buffet three times per day. Sure, salads were available… but so was pizza!
I remember looking in the mirror before my college graduation.
I should have been proud of myself for making the Dean’s List. Instead, I felt like a loser. “Yeah, you did well in school,” I thought, “but at what cost?” This was a pivotal moment that changed the course of my life. I vowed to strive for balance, because what good is being successful when you’re too out-of-shape to enjoy it?
I researched my options for days and days.
At the suggestion of some guys in the Men’s Health forum, I began to lift weights. “Resistance training speeds up your metabolism,” they told me, “so it’s more efficient than cardio.” My first workout was humbling. I couldn’t do a single push-up or pull-up. Doing squats with a barbell was too hard, because my balance sucked. Fortunately, other exercises can help you work up to that stuff.
The gym became my fortress of solitude.
Strength training had a positive effect on my mood, mindset, and waistline. As time passed, I began to notice other benefits that surprised me. Sickness and injury became rare events. Moving furniture and carrying grocery bags got easier. Talking to strangers didn’t scare me like it used to. I know confidence is mostly a mental thing, but being fit makes a big difference!
Sounds awesome so far, but there is a dark-side.
I got so absorbed in my diet and exercise routine that I turned into an insufferable human being. In 2012, my ex-fiancee and I took a trip to Dollywood, the theme park popularized by Dolly Parton. The roller-coasters are the best part. The food is a close second (especially the funnel cakes… yum!).
Sadly, I didn’t take a single bite of delicious food that day. I became so fired up about my progress that I was afraid breaking my diet would mess everything up. I packed a lunch box with spinach salad, canned tuna, and black beans. My breath must have reeked! My ex was pissed off (and rightfully so), because I wouldn’t enjoy the moment with her. For a year or two, my eating habits bordered on “disordered.”
There’s nothing wrong with caring about your diet.
Let’s be real: losing fat requires you to make sacrifices. But that doesn’t mean your diet should control your life. I got so strict that it became difficult to enjoy holidays, vacations, and special occasions. Breaking my diet for a day — or even a week — wouldn’t have been a big deal. My obsession alienated the people around me.
In the past, I would have called those people “haters” or “naysayers.” Now I know better. Sure, some of them were just annoyed… but others were genuinely concerned for my well-being. When you’re choking down cold black beans at a theme-park known for its funnel cakes, it’s hard to blame them. No amount of weight-loss is worth sacrificing the experiences and relationships that make life worth living.
Extremism has no place here.
I preach the gospel of moderation. Eat your cake (but not every day). Drink your booze (within reason).
If you’re conscious of how many calories you consume, there’s no need for deprivation. Being calorie conscious is not the same thing as obsessing about how many calories you consume.
Please note you’ll need to keep a close eye on your calories at first. Hint: calorie counting apps like MyFitnessPal help. But as you gain experience, this will be less necessary. Mindful eaters can glance at a plate of food and make an educated guess about its nutritional value (but this takes practice like anything else!).
Dogma is not welcome here.
Most fitness gurus will tell you one type of exercise is “better” than another. False!
There isn’t a “best” way to exercise in general. However, there is a best way to exercise for each unique individual.
I don’t know what type of exercise plan would be most appropriate for you. It depends on your needs, goals, preferences, fitness level, and other variables.
A busy professional and stay-at-home mom don’t have a lot in common. An office worker might want to hit the gym in the morning, because they’re too tired after work (trust me, I know the feeling!).
A busy mom might take her kids on a walk in the evening after they get home from school. Neither method is “better” or “worse” than the other. As long as you have patience, both paths would lead to the same place.
Did you notice this blog is called “Fit at 30?”
That’s mostly because I just turned 30. (Clever or obvious? I report, you decide!)
Too many people let themselves go a little bit more with every passing year. I’m aware of the excuses…
You don’t have enough energy, because raising a kid is exhausting. You don’t have enough time, because you work 60 hours a week. You don’t have enough money to afford healthy groceries, exercise equipment, or a gym membership.
Are these legitimate problems? Sure! But they aren’t insurmountable obstacles either. Exercise can fit everybody’s life, regardless of their situation. It might require some creativity and resourcefulness and that’s okay. If it was too easy, it wouldn’t be worth the effort. Struggle is the secret sauce that gives success its flavor. (Click to tweet)
I hope you can learn to love exercise like I did.
I appreciate you for taking the time to read my story! Feel free to share it with anyone you feel would be moved by it.
Stay tuned. There will be more content coming soon. We’ll discuss the mental side of the equation — mindset and motivation — as well as practical stuff like time management, exercise selection, and goal setting.
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